There are many compelling reasons for hospitals and health systems to implement virtual health. Mounting evidence points to improved health outcomes, cost savings, and increased convenience for patients.
But, as with any new medical development, there are technical, accessibility, and engagement challenges.
The good news is that you don’t need to purchase expensive software and hardware or hire additional IT staff to address these challenges.
Since 2012, clinicians have been offering telehealth services via SMS. Not only does it work, but it’s a low-cost solution that doesn’t require patients to download another app.
Here’s how telehealth SMS can help strengthen patient engagement.
Telehealth SMS uses text messages to facilitate communication between patients and health and social care practitioners.
Most healthcare providers use SMS to send patients a link to a video conferencing platform like Zoom. Once they click on the link, the camera on the phone is activated automatically.
Here’s an example of a doctors appointment text message in practice.
Clinicians also use text messages to:
Research from UCSD even found using a low-cost text messaging program led to improved blood glucose control for patients with type 2 diabetes.
Texting is an excellent channel for reaching and engaging patients for several reasons. Here they are.
A poor internet connection can hinder telehealth. That’s why carrying out the bulk of pre-and-post appointment communication on a channel that doesn’t require wifi makes sense.
On top of this, there is no hardware requirement for the patient. They don’t need a computer, a camera, or a speaker. (The share of Americans that own smartphones is now 81% and 96% own a mobile phone.)
90% of people read text messages within the first three minutes of receiving them. Only 24% of people open emails in the first hour. If you need an instant response from a patient, SMS is your best bet.
Finally, as we’ve written before, people don’t like phone calls. According to an analysis of 11 billion calls, you only have a 52% chance of connecting with someone. If your customer doesn’t recognize your phone number when they pick up their cellphone, that statistic rises to 76%.
A review of 23 telehealth reports found consistent reductions in total cost, cost per patient, and cost per visit. Telehealth saving on costs is a trend, not an outlier.
That’s the long-term view, though. At the outset, it can cost a small practice a lot of money. With texting, the entire process requires no hardware or expensive subscriptions.
While there’s a lot to HIPAA, the main thing to know is that it aims to safeguard protected health information (PHI) like fingerprints or birth dates. HIPAA compliant texting should avoid messages with PHI.
That’s because the journey of a text message takes it through carriers, and then at “rest,” data is stored on the specific handsets that received the messages.
Because mobile devices can be lost or stolen, you can’t use SMS for PHI. However, appointment reminders and the kinds of messages we outlined above are acceptable.
Please note that this advice is for informational purposes only and is neither intended as nor should be substituted for consultation with appropriate legal counsel and/or your organization’s regulatory compliance team.
Telehealth is an essential way to stay connected with patients during this outbreak. But even after COVID passes, virtual care looks like it’s here to stay.
And as it grows from niche to mainstream, healthcare providers are going to need a way to connect with their patients that works for most parties.
Most, if not all, patients use text messaging in their day-to-day lives. And the benefit to the care provider is that it’s easy to set-up and affordable.
If you’re looking for an SMS for healthcare platform to support your virtual care, sign up for a 14-day free trial of SimpleTexting. Every account comes with a complimentary, text-enabled number. You can even choose one with your area code!